For Jason Moon, coming back to music was as much a homecoming as returning from Iraq was—and it ended up being the one piece of home that could set him on the road to healing.
As a young man, songwriting was something Jason did for fun, or to make others laugh, and he dreamt of becoming a famous musician. At that time, he says he wrote most of his songs with the listener in mind. But as he got older, his goal shifted away from fame. Writing songs, for him, became much more about the creative process itself.
“Songwriting became a way to put my emotions somewhere else so they wouldn’t live inside me,” he explains. It was when he realized that his songs didn’t have to make other people happy that he really started feeling like a songwriter, he says. For him, writing music became a process of “cathartic healing.”
But that changed in 2004 after he returned from active combat duty in Iraq. Soon after he got home, he started having symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Like he’d done in the past, he tried to write songs about the strong emotions he was struggling with. But these emotions felt too big to express.
“It was like opening a wound,” he says. “A song would come into my head and heart like [it used to], but this time, instead of turning into a song, it would trigger my PTSD symptoms.” He wanted so desperately for these memories and feelings to live outside of him, but they were harder to expel than anything he’d ever sung about before.
PTSD seemed to take over his life no matter where he was. He rarely slept, and he felt angry and hypervigilant most of the time. Nearly everything he used to love doing became impossibly difficult for him. Even his ability to write music—his one solace—seemed to have been taken away from him.
“Before the war, songwriting was my greatest joy, and suddenly, I couldn’t write about anything,” he says. “Even writing about something happy just reminded me of how sad I was.” He didn’t finish a song for five years.
Jason says the veteran community wasn’t prepared to offer him any help, and he didn’t know how to ask for it. “As soldiers, we’re taught how to function on our own in order to accomplish the mission,” he explains. And so, he functioned; yet he felt alone and powerless.
The pain eventually became so unbearable for Jason that in 2008, he attempted to take his own life. While he was recovering, he was asked to be part of “On the Bridge,” a documentary about veterans struggling with PTSD, and to contribute a few songs for the film. And although he hadn’t been able to write music for years, there was something about being issued a direct order that spurred him back into creative action.
“I just sat down, and it hit me that this is what I do—I write songs,” he says. “Why was I trying to speak about the war instead of doing what I do [best]?”
For Jason, writing songs about PTSD was his way of bringing the enemy onto familiar terrain where he had the upper hand. “[Writing that first song] felt dangerous,” he says. “But mostly—mostly it was incredibly liberating.”
Jason’s songwriting process is like turning on a faucet, with chords and words bursting out of him like water running at full force until it dries up. The most important part, he says, is letting himself say whatever comes into his mind, no matter how “bad” it may sound later. “The process of writing a song is more important to me than whether anyone hears it,” Jason explains. “I’m trying to express something inside of me, and it’s something that has to be released.”
The songs on Jason’s CD mirror his own struggles as a young veteran adjusting to life after war. He sings about the anguish of being far away from home, and about being in therapy after his suicide attempt. He sings about anxiety attacks, and about the emotional and mental numbness caused by his medications. He sings about the desperation of trying to hold on for one more day—and of one day turning into two days, and then three, and so on. He sings about sustaining the spirit.
The response to his music has been overwhelming. “I thought I was the only one who felt this way when I started,” he says. “But others started hearing their stories in the songs, too.” And it’s not just other veterans who have found solace in his music. Jason’s music has also helped family members and people close to veterans with PTSD connect with their loved ones, who may not be able to verbalize their experiences.
That is exactly what Jason wants to help veterans do. His goal in founding his nonprofit Warrior Songs is to bring hope and healing to veterans like him through music. He wants to help them express the difficult emotions and thoughts that he knows all too well. And with these voices, he hopes that the next CD will reflect a wider range of veterans’ experiences.
Of his own healing process from PTSD, Jason says it’s still a process. “But my a-ha moment came when I merged what I was best at and what I’m most passionate about—which is making sure that every veteran in this country knows they’re not alone in their suffering,” he says. “That is when my healing really began.”
Jason likes to think of the title track from his CD, “Trying to Find My Way Home,” as a summation of his entire journey thus far. While it hasn’t been easy, his songs have brought a little joy back into his life. And they have given him a new sense of purpose and fulfillment.
“We’re turning extremely painful, hurtful stuff into beautiful music,” he says. “And that feels really important.”
Purchase a copy of Jason Moon’s first CD, “Trying to Find My Way Home”
by Claire Berman